Nov. 29th, 2020 — homily by Rev. Antoine “Tony” Love. 1 Cor. 1:3-9
The Start of our Advent Journey
To the family and friends of God, to my brothers and sisters in faith: greetings of grace and peace to you. Isn’t it good news to know that God’s grace and peace are still ours today? I rejoice this day that our God has blessed us with another day of life. We woke up in time and not in eternity to see the dawning of another day — a day filled with God’s provision of new mercies that prove to us that God is faithful.
As we come to this celebration of praise and worship, I trust that you, like me, are coming with a grateful heart, full of Thanksgiving and with deep appreciation for all that God has done, is doing, and will do. Today, God’s beloved, we are starting our advent journey — the season of expectant waiting and preparation that calls people of faith to remember, as well as rejoice, over the Christ child that has come, and the conquering Christ who is to come.
When we entered this celebration — our journey today — we lit the first candle of our advent wreath. The candle of Hope.
The Pessimist and the Optimist
Let me share with you a story. It’s a joke, but I believe it is food for thought as we consider hope. Will you listen? There were twins about the age of five or six. Worried that the two had developed extreme personalities — one being a total pessimist and the other a total optimist, their parents took them to a psychiatrist.
First, the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him into a room piled to the ceiling high with brand new toys. Instead of yelling with delight, the little fellow burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of these toys?”
“Yes!” the little boy balled. “But if I did, I’d only break them.”
Next, the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him into a room piled high to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yell of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clamored to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist.
“With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
Hope. Isn’t it interesting, if not amazing, how one acts when hope is present?
Will you join me in prayer? Let us pray. Consecrate me now to thy service, Lord, and by the power of grace divine. Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, let my will be lost in thine. Draw me nearer, draw us nearer. In the name of Jesus, the guarantor of all my prayers, I ask. Hallelujah and amen.
People of God, “hope” is defined simply as a wish, an optimistic state of mind that is based upon the expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events or circumstances in one’s life or the world at large — the belief that things will work, especially when it seems otherwise. In the Bible, hope is defined as the confident expectation of what God has promised and it’s strength is in God’s faithfulness.
To the people of the Old testament — the Hebrew Bible — God promised a Savior. And those people waited with confidence for God’s promise to be fulfilled. At the appointed time, God sent a Savior. God sent His son, Jesus, born of Mary. God, a faithful God, intersected with humanity. God in Jesus of Nazareth becomes divinely human, as well as humanly divine. God robes in flesh and comes to be with God’s created. A Savior, a redeemer, was hoped for. The coming of Jesus was God’s promise being fulfilled. Jesus was their hope. Jesus is our hope too.
When I think of Jesus as Hope, I become acutely aware that hope is not a posture of resignation, nor reclining into a kumbaya moment of marking time. No, instead hope is an active, living, if not lively stance, that beckons me and beckons you. It beckons us to engage, to be, and do as hope did, as Jesus did!
I recall Hope was not born into the best of places, under the best of circumstances. No, Hope arrived during a governmental occupation in a city so overrun because of the census taking place, that Hope’s birthplace was not great or grand, but very humble. Lowly, meek. Hope arrived in the filth and the foul smells of a manger and probably unattended. Even though the heavens declared the arrival of Hope, as Hope made its entry into the world, wickedness in high places sought to destroy Hope’s promise and potential. Because of this threat, Hope becomes an immigrant, who flees from his homeland of Judea, only to resettle in another place — Egypt. Hope was born into a blended family, had a stepdad that took Hope as its own and raised Hope. And despite Hope’s birth and his challenges, Hope kept digging, and Hope rose.
When Hope saw the suffering, the injury and harm of people, Hope stopped to talk with, to engage, reached out to touch, make a connection, and then sought to bring healing, restoration, and wholeness, because Hope was always desiring to bring people to a better place, state, or reality.
Hope reached out to those who are on the edges, on the very margins of their society and their community. When Hope met a woman from Samaria at the well of Jacob, one with whom Hope should have never associated with because of race relations, her questionable background, Hope took time to encounter her, because Hope did not see her for who she was but for who she could become.
Encountering a man who was mentally ill, living among the dead in a cemetery, a man whose community had tried to subdue him with chains to contain him, a man who would cut himself with stones and rocks he found, Hope attended to him, called out the challenges that afflicted him, so that deliverance and relief could come. Oh, see family and friends, Hope does not discard, discount, or disregard.
As Hope told parables, teaching stories, it became apparent and clear that the way we’ve always done it was up for reconsideration. As Hope taught us that a prodigal son could go home and be celebrated, a good shepherd would leave the 99 and go in search of the one. Who your neighbor is has nothing to do with the expectations associated with position or status, but everything to do with compassionate actions. And in God’s economy, the first would be last and the last would be first.
Hope reconstructed a withered hand, Hope commanded a paralytic to rise from his mat. Hope told the winds and the waves “peace be still.” Hope turned over the tables in the place of worship in protest. Hope called dead things back to life.
When Hope was set up falsely accused, sentenced to die, Hope carried the weight for others. He’s not heavy, she’s not heavy, they’re my family.
Hope was mocked, beaten, spat upon, hung up for our hang ups, pierced, died, and yet sprang up eternal to offer a more abundant way of living.
Oh my sisters and my brothers, as people of Hope, followers of Jesus who is our Hope, Hope calls us to be active participants in God’s purpose and plan, in God’s will and God’s way. Fully understanding that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither our ways God’s ways.
Living as People of Hope
Can we be people of hope, who pray the Lord’s prayer, make the claim “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven,” and then sit along the sidelines of life to witness the advancement of darkness, knowing that there are the haves and the have-nots?
Hope compels us to participate, to usher in God’s kingdom and God’s will, to assist God’s reign, being made real here and now, as it is in heaven.
Can we be people of hope who trust that the spirit of the Lord is upon us, because the spirit has anointed us to proclaim good news to the poor, sends us to proclaim freedom to the prisoner, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, then watch our siblings in faith and of this world being held hostage by power, greed or privilege?
Can we be people of hope who affirm the prophet of old Micah’s words that the Lord requires us to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God and then turn our backs as we witness persons being treated unfairly and being discriminated against?
Can we be people of hope who espouse the belief that we have been called, we have been set apart, and then in the face of needing to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite the stranger in, clothing the needy and visit the sick and in prison, deny ever seeing these as servant opportunities?
Beloved of God, during this advent journey, let us consider where hope is requiring us to be present and accounted for, to show up, to show out, to set it off in the name of Jesus who is our hope. Consider during this global pandemic since mid-March, hope has taught us how to pivot, how to be the church that is not a building, but a fellowship of faithful believers who moved mission and ministry to online presence, discovered ways to enlarge our footprint so that serving and blessing and reaching and caring and teaching and encouraging folks did not skip a beat as we advanced God’s ways. Hope demands that we keep on digging.
Saints, there’s a pony in here! Keep on fighting. Might will yield to right. Keep on marching for those who can’t take another step. Change will come. Keep on giving, pouring yourselves out for others until all people have a fair share. Keep on speaking up, turning the tide towards realizing God’s Beloved Community. Keep on serving, for there’s plenty room at the table. Keep on loving. In the end, love prevails. Keep hope alive. Keep it well. Amen